EDITORIAL: Muddying up Pritzker to derail an honest vote on a better income tax

SHARE EDITORIAL: Muddying up Pritzker to derail an honest vote on a better income tax

Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveils his graduated income tax plan during a press conference in his office at the Illinois State Capitol last month. File Photo. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

We smell a set-up.

The most important job for the Illinois Legislature in the next five weeks is to take tough votes on essential legislation to move the state forward after years of stagnation — beginning with a vote in favor of a graduated income tax.

Yet opponents of the fairer tax, more interested in protecting the bank accounts of the wealthiest people in Illinois, are doing their best to derail an honest vote by dirtying up Gov. J.B. Pritzker with old mud.

Nobody should be fooled. And nobody should allow the mud to become an excuse for failing to do what’s best for Illinois.

As WBEZ reported on Wednesday, Pritzker, his wife and a brother-in-law are under federal investigation for a $330,000 property tax break the Pritzkers received on a Gold Coast mansion. As the Sun-Times first reported in 2017, the Pritzkers had toilets removed from the mansion. That made the place uninhabitable, reducing its value for tax purposes.

If the feds are looking into the matter, so be it. That’s their job. If any laws were broken, Pritzker must answer for that.

But we find the timing of the revelation suspicious; the investigation began in October, according to WBEZ. We have to wonder if it can be sourced back to the powerful opponents, many of them working in the shadows, of a graduated income tax.

They can’t defeat the plan on its merits, so they’re trying to jump it on the low road.

For four years under Gov. Bruce Rauner, who thought compromise was a dirty word, Illinois sank further and further into debt. And now, given an unfunded pension liability that tops $134 billion, Illinois must generate new tax revenue.

The only question is who should pay more. The working poor and the barely middle class? Or, as a matter of fairness, the wealthier residents of Illinois and the biggest corporations?

Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax, which would raise an additional $3.4 billion a year, would lower taxes slightly for the majority of the state’s residents and increase taxes on everybody who earns above $250,000 a year. People pulling in $1 million or more a year would pay taxes at the highest rate, 7.95% on every dollar above $1 million.

This is fair and necessary. For too long, Illinois has levied a tax on a dollar that a single mom might spend on baby food at the same rate as a dollar that a billionaire might spend on a third home.

Thirty-four states already have a graduated income tax, recognizing that those who benefit most from the freedoms and opportunities of America should give the most back. Even four of the five states bordering Illinois — our state’s most direct competitors for jobs — have a graduated income tax.

By any definition of fair play, a graduated income tax is superior to a flat tax, especially given a growing wealth gap in our nation.

But what, then, do you do if you’re on the wrong side of fairness?

You do like “Ideas Illinois,” a dark money group formed to oppose Pritzker’s tax proposal. You confuse the issue. You coarsen the debate.

Just hours after WBEZ reported the news of the federal investigation, Ideas Illinois put out an intellectually dishonest statement that says nobody should back the governor’s graduated income tax plan because he himself may have been “gaming the system to pay less.”

Any legislator who uses such a feeble argument as cover to vote against Pritzker’s tax plan should be voted out of office. He or she is fooling nobody.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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